A swarm of comets is identified swinging in orbit around the sun, but this time they're coming too close. In the center of the swarm is a mountain sized asteroid named Shiva. Earth has eleven months before Shiva returns on it's orbit, where it's path will put it directly into a collision course with Earth. The debris of Shiva precedes it, and meteors begin striking the Earth; first Biskra near the Tunisian border, then Cleveland, then Miami beach - and they keep coming.
President Caleb Knowles and NASA Operations director Chuck Bradshaw come up with a plan to save the Earth. Russian president Yaroslav Kalinin has a four hundred megaton atomic device kept hidden from the US that he offers up for the destruction of Shiva. In a global effort, two teams of astronauts, Alpha team and Omega team, are sent into space to detonate the bombs on Shiva to either destroy it or alter its course away from Earth. Captain Carl Jagens leads up the Alpha team, and Major Lisa Bander leads the Omega team. Lisa has a romance going with Colonel Diego Calderon, second to Jagens on the Alpha team.
Long before the astronauts can intercept Shiva, the world begins to collapse. With meteors striking everywhere, civilization begins to collapse. There's political and scientific upheaval, global political fallout, the collapse of banks and the exchange, power failures nationwide, desertions in the military and private sectors, assassinations, and sects forming in the civilian population. The most dangerous sect is formed by Douglas Kress, who now calls himself Brother Gabriel and leads "The Gabriels" (reminiscent of the Heaven's Gate cult from comet Hale-Bopp) on a mission to stop the astronauts from launching. They believe its God's will that Shiva cleanses the Earth. Millions would die before Shiva, in riots, revolts, starvation, and disease.
'Shiva Descending' was written in 1980, the forerunner of the "Armageddon by comet" scenarios. 'Lucifer's Hammer' (another good book) came out in 1985. In 1998 came the movie 'Deep Impact', and in 1999 the movie 'Armageddon', both of which are excellent movies. In the movies, though, they portray civilization staying relatively intact while waiting for impact, whereas in 'Shiva Descending' the more realistic approach of chaos is used. I personally believe society would break down into splinter groups and wreak havoc during their remaining days. (I don't have much faith in humanity - a person is smart, but people, as a herd animal, are stupid)
The book has a good grasp on its futuristic allusions except for a couple of references to card-reader computers and 8-track video cassettes. It should be considered a "hard sci-fi" book because of the extensive scientific material included, almost technical enough to lose my attention. The ending is a bit abrupt; leaving a lot of unresolved issues, but satisfies the destiny of Shiva itself. The main characters are independent and realistic, and there are many extra characters you'll get to know. The chapters are broken into a timeline, so you'll live through the catastrophe as the characters do. The descriptions and dialogue are tight and interesting.
'Shiva Descending' is a must have for fans like me of the Apocalypse genre. Well worth finding a used copy, since its now out-of-print. Just outlining the plot doesn't do the book justice, because so much is happening during the story you won't be able to put the book down. It takes a harder look at the science and politics of a disaster than most apocalyptic stories, so you'll need it in your collection. Enjoy!
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